Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I thought I would share something a little lighthearted for once from my days as a missionary in Germany.

In 1997, I was studying for my Master of Arts in Missions.  One of the requirements was that I travel overseas for 6 months for a practicum.  My denomination, The Salvation Army, was very accommodating.  Since I could already speak some German, they found me a place with The Salvation Army's Missionsteam Hamburg.

Since I would be staying for over 3 months, I would need to get a visa.  I applied beforehand to the German consulate in Chicago, but the answer from them took so long that I arrived in Germany after they said I could stay.  So I went to the Ausländeramt, the German version of the Immigration Office.  I went to a waiting room for all applicants whose surnames (family name/last name) started with the letters "L-N."  My surname is McPherson.  So I went there to wait.  I could not make an appointment for this.  I just had to go and wait.

I waited.  I waited a long time.  I waited for 2 hours until my number was called.  Finally I went into the office where a tired official looked at all of my paperwork that I had filled out in advance.  Understand now that my German, although good, was not quite yet at the "fluent" rate.  After he perused my documents, he asked me, "Where is your Anmeldungsbestätigung?"  My school German went into overdrive.  Anmeldung = Registration.  Bestätigung= Confirmation/Verification.  OK.  The words I understood.  The fact that Germans love to combine words into even larger words made me crazy sometimes.  The official was patient with me and explained that when people come to a new city, they need to register first with the city.  This registration is required of all German citizens and foreigners.  The main purpose of this was for taxation.  It also allowed one to open up bank accounts and register for other every day things.

I went back to the the house where everyone else in the team stayed.  I told our officers what had happened.  They told me that they thought that this might happen, but weren't certain.  So I had to go to a different office and register at the local Bürgeramt (a citizen service center).  I waited for a little over an hour there and got my registration with no problem (after filling out the proper form).

Then I traveled back to the immigration office.  Remember:  My last name is McPherson.  I went to the room for all foreigners whose family names ended in L-N.  I waited again.  This time it was even longer.  I waited for 2 hours and 30 minutes.  Finally, my number was called.  I met with the same tired official.  He looked over my papers and I proudly showed him that I had my Registration Confirmation.  He nodded sagely and then looked at my last name.

"Your family name starts with the letter 'P.'"

"What?  No, it doesn't.  My family name is McPherson.  It starts with the letter 'M.'"

"But in Germany, we do not attach the Mc or Mac to the family name.  Your last name starts with the letter 'P.'"

"OK.  My last name starts with 'P.'  Is there a problem?"

"You are in the office for people whose family names begin with the letters L-N.  You will need to go to the office that handles people who family names begin with the letters O-P."

I was dumbfounded.  I found out later that this requirement was also for Germans who had a "von" in their name.  So Maria von Trapp (The Sound of Music) would have to wait in the "T" room and not the "V" room.  I also learned another truth.  Germans love bureaucracy.

So I trudged on over to the next office, waited again for a long time, but this time only a half an hour.  I received my visa and stayed for 6 months in Germany.

My time in Germany made me very aware how difficult it is to be an immigrant.  I was there legally, too!  I did everything right, but it was still an uphill battle to even be allowed to stay there.  Those who came from other countries which did not have good diplomatic ties with Germany had an even more difficult time immigrating.  Coming back to the United States after being overseas for 10 years made Germany seem easy to immigrate to in comparison.  A German friend of mine who also had a visa to stay in America for one year told me that when he arrived, the immigration officer told him that if he overstayed his visit by one day, that he would be imprisoned, deported, and not allowed to come back to the US.

A friend of mine reminded me recently of this passage from Leviticus 19:33-34 (NASB):  "When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God."  This also goes hand in hand with Christ's admonition in Matthew 25:35b (NASB):  "I was a stranger, and you invited Me in."

If we are to be welcoming to all immigrants in our respective countries, we should practice what Jesus taught us to do, for in doing so, we are welcoming Jesus, too.

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